There are always monsters hidden away in Stephen King’s desk drawers. Tuesday, one of them will come out into the light when King’s latest novel, “Under the Dome,” goes on sale. It’s one of the Bangor author’s longer books, at 1,074 pages.
“Under the Dome” is set in the small western Maine town of Chester’s Mill, just down the road from the Derry County seat of Castle Rock.
In the novel, on Oct. 21, an invisible force field falls over Chester’s Mill, keeping those inside the town in and those outside it out. The barrier is impenetrable, as planes and cars crashing into it prove.
The people trapped inside soon divide into two camps. A small group of rebels forms around Iraq War veteran-turned-cook Dale Barbara, whom the president of the U.S. orders be put in charge. Actively resisting this is used-car dealer and de facto town tyrant Big Jim Rennie, who recruits an army of miscreants to hang onto power, through intimidation, violence and even murder.
But the real enemy is the dome, as residents adjust to life without electricity and fresh air and water. As the novel progresses, the petty acts of a few negatively affect the lives of many.
“Under the Dome” has been more than 30 years in the making. As King describes in the author’s note for the new novel, “I first tried to write ‘Under the Dome’ in 1976, and crept away from it with my tail between my legs after two weeks’ work that amounted to about 75 pages.”
“The technical issues were the sticking point,” King recalled in a phone interview last week.
He took a second stab at it during the filming of “Creepshow.” Then titled “The Cannibals,” it dealt with a group of people stuck inside an apartment building. King made it to 500 pages that time before hitting the wall. The manuscript was thought lost, but it turned up again last summer.
King began “Under the Dome” again on a plane ride to Australia in 2007.
“It was like a 14-hour flight,” he explained. “I used Bridgton as a template, a place with a huge population in the summer and smaller in the winter, which made it more manageable. I started with the airplane-woodchuck-pulp truck scene, and planned it out on the airplane.”
Still he was concerned with getting the technical details right. So he contacted Russ Dorr, a physician’s assistant in Bridgton, who had helped him as a researcher on “The Stand” and “Duma Key,” and who agreed to take on that duty again for “Under the Dome.”
As he has proved with books such as “The Stand,” King isn’t afraid of books with a lot of characters.
“I’ve gotten comfortable working with a large cast,” he said. “It all comes down to the idea. If it’s a strong idea, the book will carry. If not, it will crash.”
Being a voracious reader helps him as well.
“You can learn by writing, but you can also learn by reading,” King said. “I like reading books like Ken Follett’s ‘Pillars of the Earth’ and ‘World Without End,’ books that carry a strong narrative through a lot of pages.”
His editor, Nan Graham, cut down the book from its original 1,600 pages: “Most of what went out was repetitive,” King assessed. “I tend to overwrite, going over the same area again.”
The result reads much shorter than its length would indicate, which is what King shoots for.
“I’m pleased with the way it turned out,” he said. “It’s a tight 1,100 pages. I want people to enjoy the ride.”
“Under the Dome” is a cautionary tale for the world we live in today.
“We’re all under the dome,” King said. “There’s limited food and resources and exploding populations, which has led to unpleasant conditions in some parts of the world. I tried to create a tiny scale model of where we all are.”